5 Things to Remind Your Kids About Smartphones

Discover how smartphones can cause bullying and other troubles

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More and more tweens and teens today have smartphones. In fact, according to the Pew Internet & American Life Project, 25 percent of teens between the ages of 14 and 17 have a smartphone. But even though a quarter of teens have smartphones, most parents still aren’t completely comfortable with the concept.

In fact, many parents feel apprehensive about the easy access their kids have to unacceptable materials through smartphones.

Then, combine this with concerns about cyberbullying, sexting, sexual bullying, predators, stalkers and host of other issues and you can see why parents are skittish.

And while parents should definitely talk to their kids about these dangers as well as teach them about digital etiquette, there are some less common pitfalls to smartphones that kids may not even consider such as sharing their phone, taking too many “selfies” and not being cautious with FaceTime. These are all subtle ways that smartphones can become a weapon for bullying. Here are five things to remind your kids about smartphones.

“Use FaceTime with caution.” Remind your kids that when they use FaceTime or any other visual chatting option, the people on the other side of the screen can snap a picture anytime they want and upload it to a social networking site. Kids have been caught in embarrassing situations doing things they don’t want the world to see just because the person on the other end snapped a photo.

Sometimes taking photos is meant to be harmless, but in the hands of the wrong people it can open the door to bullying.

“Don’t allow your friends to use your phone.” Kids often share their phones like they are community property. They allow their friends to text, use FaceTime, take photos and get on social media.

But what kids don’t realize is that everything that friend does on their phone comes back to them. So if their friend texts another person something mean or hurtful, it looks like your child sent the text. This means any consequences for bullying or mean girl behavior would fall on your child’s shoulders because it is her phone.

“Take “selfies” sparingly.” Every tween and teen loves to take pictures of themselves, or selfies, and post them to their social networking site. But too many selfies can open the door to bullying. For instance, kids typically like to make funny faces including sticking their tongue out, making duck lips or other funny gestures. Too many of these photos means there are a lot of funny pictures of your child floating around the Internet. And, if an opportunistic bully gets ahold of one, the bullying can begin. Too many selfies also could communicate self-centeredness, which alienates people as well. A good rule of thumb is to look at the grid on the Instagram screen that only allows for nine thumbnails to show at a time.

If your child has more selfies than other photos in that grid, she is posting too many selfies to the Internet.

“Realize that people can take pictures even without your password.”  If your child has an iPhone, photos can be taken without even unlocking the phone. All someone has to do is swipe the camera icon and snap a picture. A lot of kids will grab their friend’s phone and start snapping random pictures just for fun. Other kids will try to snap embarrassing or shocking pictures of others or themselves without the phone’s owner knowing it. Later, when the owners scroll through their photos they are shocked at what they discover. Remind your kids not to ever put their phone down and walk away. Their phone should be with them or in a secure location. If sexting photos or other inappropriate photos show up on their phone, they are the only ones that can be held responsible.

“Beware of locations services and ‘checking in.’” Be sure your kids know that the images they upload to Instagram are public and geotagged by default. What this means is that child predators, stalkers and bullies can generate a Google map of where your child spends her time. Even if you are a proactive parent and change your child’s Instagram settings to private and disable geolocation, there are still some dangers. For instance, if your child’s friends haven’t changed their settings and they upload photos of your child, someone could still find your child’s location. Lastly, if your child gets a new phone, remember to reset the settings on Instagram to private and disable the geolocation services. A good rule of thumb is to encourage your kids to avoid "checking in" as much as possible.

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